Sunday, January 4, 2015

Putting Imagination First

Title: Imagination First: Unlocking the Power of Possibility
Author:  Eric Liu and Scott Noppe-Brandon
Publisher: Jossey-Bass
ISBN: 978-1118013687
Pages: 272

I was at the university library looking for books about mindfulness and turned into the aisle where this book was shelved and I was immediately struck by the front cover.  The fire engine red zig-zag of paint in the middle of the cover grabbed my attention and insisted that I at least look at the book.   I flipped over the book and looked at the list of people who recommended the book – Daniel H. Pink, among them.  That was enough for me to check-out the book.  It got slipped into my backpack for my trip to New York City.  It was a great read for the subway each of the short chapters each could stand alone, and to read a book with constant interruption is difficult.  Plus, since I didn’t read the whole book in one sitting, I was able to contemplate the ideas, which is almost required to get anything out of the book.

The basic hypothesis of the authors is that, as a country, we have stopped imagining.  We either make due with what we have, or tinker with it a little, but we have lost “the capacity to conceive of what is not – something that, as far as we know, does not exist; or something that may exist by we simply cannot perceive” (p. 19).  The goal of the book is to image what it would look like to put imagination first in the ICI Continuum. 
Imagination → Creativity (imagination applied) →  Innovation (novel creativity)

The book is set up in three parts: the premise, the practices, and the purpose. The Premise explains the basic ICI Continuum framework – that imagination needs to happen first, before someone can be creative to innovative. Part two explains 28 different practices that someone can do each day to jump start their imagination.  Some are as simple sounding as “Leave the Campfire” – to recognize that staying with the group may be comforting, but it limits our ability to take risks.  To leave the campfire means we need to identify and face the fear of doing something different, but if Steve Jobs and Twyla Tharp could do it, so can we all.

Other practices are harder to identify and incorporate.  They force us to reflect own ourselves and intentional change.  For example, citing George Lakoff’s work with metaphors, “Mix Your Metaphors” encourages people to recognize what metaphors are shaping the way they frame reality and chose to use different metaphors to re-frame their reality.  Similarly, the authors encourage an examination of the stories, or narratives people tell themselves and examine how the narrative influences their choices.  Citing Carol Dweck’s work on fixed versus dynamic mindsets, and encourages people t adopt a dynamic mindset that anything is possible. 

The final part of the book illustrates what can happen when imagination is put first.  It leads to building What If Capacities, creating networks with other imaginations, and the capability to do good in a fairly dark world. 

The book was very easy to read – with large text and short chapters – but there was a lot of powerful practices packed into it.  Since it was a library book, I did not underline or mark anything, but I will be on the look-out for a used copy so that I can re-read, re-think, and make the practices my own.